An artiste seeks the perfect ambience for a performance. The physical space, the preparation areas, green rooms, dancing floor,the distance between the stage and the first row of seats, the acoustical design of the theatre all contribute to some theatres being more coveted than others. In a city that has already begun its month long carnival of dance and music, this is perhaps the right time to survey our cultural spaces as the NRI ’ rasikas’ descends upon us.
I was at the re-opening of the newly renovated RUKMINI ARANGAM in Kalakshetra. Seated in the first row brought back memories of the time when the late Rukmini Arundale watched all her celebrated dance productions take shape in that serene, aesthetic space. The triangular pyramid like roof with a thatched interior surface, now weather proofed, a large semi circular stage reaching out to the audience and the traditional floor-seating area that is always occupied by the students, offered a simple throwback to the genius of traditional architecture in consonance with local weather and behaviour patterns. Even the incoherent dance performance did not deter my enjoyment as my mind flowed back to the days of rehearsals for RAMA VANAGAMANAM , where I played Kausalaya along with Apollo Hospitals chief Preetha Reddy who played Sumitra.
Today we are forced to park our cars on the streets due to ill designed halls, conceived by disconnected architects or myopic chartered accountants who only look at the cash register and not at the experience of ‘sahridaya’. Add a concrete performance space that is ruinous on stamping feet, there are the filthy toilets, makeshift green rooms, invisible rehearsal spaces, inadequate lighting equipment and poor acoustics. The seating area usually carries the remnants of the previous occupant’s saris or dupattas. The main auditoriums have a smaller ‘sister’, called the mini-hall. Here the imagination has really been stunted, since the opportunity to build a truly smaller’black box’ theatre to accommodate 100 to 150 people with excellent acoustics has been lost. The beautiful ” Sittrarangam”, built 25 years ago in the Island Grounds space is abandoned since it is in the wrong geographic location of the city.
Can you imagine cultural spaces like Esplanade in Singapore, Sadlers Wells in London or Lincoln Centre in New York that will allow its auditoriums for hire for computer classes and a corporate AGM? Can you imagine a Bollywood singer entertaining a family wedding party while kids run around eating food on the same stage that a world class artiste has just performed on the previous night? This is what our hallowed spaces around the country actually witness during the year or the ‘low season”. This is because NO cultural space, built by corporate philanthrophy has been sufficiently endowed to curate a year round cultural calendar. They also do not have qualified staff for audience and programme development.
Bhanot may have angered us by his hygiene comment during the Commonwealth Games, but artistes in India know he speaks the truth. Why do artistes put up with such low standards? It is plainly because the demand and supply ratio of singers and dancers to the spaces available is so lop sided that most artistes are willing to perform in ANY small square space with chaos and unprofessionalism around them. During this month, we have to prepare to set up and perform within FIFTEEN MINUTES after the classical musician has finished his/her performance.
In our seventh decade of independence, we are still looking to the British, French, German and now the Korean to provide us the ‘other’ experience of contemporary and innovative work. The city’s Alliance Francaise has a renovated stage with shower stalls for the performers after the show.
When will the “KALAI KAVALARS” wake up and when will the artistes protest loudly enough to affect a change in attitude. When will we have an integrated space like the National School of Drama, New Delhi, where actors and dancers can train, rehearse, perform, interact, discuss, argue, study,create and collaborate through the year. Where the artist is respected and artistic activity is enshrined as a legitimate creative process.